Friday, July 30, 2010

On Samantha (Or, The winner is...)

Okay, so in my mind's eye, the closest celebrity snapshot I could find to resemble Samantha is actress Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls). The two pics below are how I imagine Sami in her 20s, when she first arrives in Seville, and then a bit later, after a comfortable adjustment to expat life.
According to reader comments, Al at Publish or Perish was the closest. Actually nailed it. (And dare I say, he might like to nail Lauren Graham? Sorry, Al, shouldn't have gone there, but I did.) Speaking of Al, I want to congratulate him on finally being able to hold in his hands a hard copy of his novel, Veiled in Shadows, soon to be available online. (That's your prize, Al, for guessing Samantha's appearance correctly - a free plug!)

Thanks, everyone, for playing along. Happy Weekend!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

On Visualization (Or, She looks like what?)

Stealing an idea today from Jen at Unedited, who presented her followers with a fun game (in my opinion). The idea is to post a snippet from a WIP (Work in Progress, for my non-writer friends) and ask readers to describe the MC's (Main Character's) appearance. This idea came about when Jen realized that her idea of a character was often completely different than what her readers had in mind. So as I work on this next novel, I give you a very random clip of Samantha as she takes her first Spanish taxi ride upon arriving in Seville for the first time. The only background info you need is that Samantha is telling this story in retrospect. In present time, she is a 40-year-old woman who has been living the expat life for many years.

Okay, here we go. Read on and tell me what Samantha looks like. I'll reveal a photo image of Samantha in a few days.

Señorita, I take you somewhere?” A taxi driver held open his trunk for my luggage as I stood on the curb obviously looking helpless and American.

Sí, gracias.” I handed him a piece of paper with my new address on it.

The driver eyed it for a second and then nodded his approval. He tossed my two bags haphazardly into the trunk, slammed it closed with more force than was necessary, and ushered me quickly into the back seat. “Traffic get bad soon. We go fast.”

As we zoomed through traffic and weaved from lane to lane, coming precariously close to other cars and proving that Seville cabbies were probably even more efficient than New York drivers, I sat in the back seat of that taxi feeling a sensation I’d never felt before. Confidence. It was the most daring venture I’d ever set out on, a time when confidence should have been the last thing I felt. It seemed fear, doubt, and even indecision had forgotten to find their way into my luggage when I packed up for my life of drinking coffee in streetside cafés and strolling Spanish calles.

Monday, July 26, 2010

On Growing Up (Or, Oh, to borrow your brain, Tom Robbins, just for one day of writing)

I am not a book critic, and I never plan for my blog to bungee jump off that bridge. But I did an impulsive thing the other day while at the library; I checked out a book. Actually, the impulsive part was that I chose a book I’d already read. (I hardly ever double read.) Back in high school, I remember loving this book for its quirky story, so much so that as I stared at the spine and read the familiar title, I couldn’t remember one single detail from the story. All I could remember was how much I loved it and how I’d gone and read another book by that peculiar author, Tom Robbins. For a man with a particularly normal name, he is anything but common.

I'm so glad I re-read Still Life with Woodpecker because as the story all came back to me, so did my affirmation of the brilliance of Tom Robbins. (I don't smoke, but I actually debated purchasing a pack of Camel cigarettes yesterday as I stared at the label behind the drugstore counter. If you want to know what I'm talking about, read the book.) Here today, I will not review his book but rather offer you tidbits of the lovely and eccentric language of Tom Robbins as used in the two novels of his that I’ve read: Still Life with Woodpecker and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.

Still Life’s home base is Seattle, where “A gelid wind, Alaska decals on every piece of its luggage, lingered in the rain without a sneeze…” (If I hadn't been reading a library copy of the book, I swear I'd have highlighted this phrase and practiced it until my writer's brain could come up with a similar way to describe the heat of South Florida.)

The underlying theme of Still Life is the protagonist’s quest to find out how to make love stay. Princess Leigh-Cherie is in love with Bernard Mickey Wrangle, aka the Woodpecker. The author’s response to Leigh-Cherie’s question: “Tell love you are going to Junior's Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if loves stays, it can have half. It will stay.”

Come on! Even if you’re unfamiliar with Junior’s Deli, how can you not love this man?

Here are two more gems:

“Sometimes one gets the feeling that life still thinks it’s living in Paris in the ‘30s.” (I’m personally all for life’s delusional thinking on that one.)

“They glared at her the way any intelligent persons ought to glare when what they need is a smoke, a bite, a cup of coffee, a piece of ass, or a good fast-paced story, and all they’re getting is philosophy.” (I know this look very well because I feel I’ve passed it around a few times.)

Robbins spends a LOT of time philosophizing in all his books, which might drive some readers to the point of taking the aforementioned bungee jump without first attaching the bungee cord, but I for one have to agree with the attitudes Robbins shares with us. Oh, you want a sample? (Well, you’re getting one anyway. I mean, if you’ve read this far, you must like something about Robbins’s writing, right?)

On humanity, Robbins says, “Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.” Which ties in to this next topic. “Growing up is a trap…When they tell you to shut up, they mean stop talking. When they tell you to grow up, they mean stop growing. Reach a nice level plateau and settle there, predictable and unchanging, no longer a threat.”

That brief treatise has stuck with me recently. When I find my children asking me to participate in childlike play and I hesitate, I hear Robbins warning me not to grow up. He tells me not to settle for the adult rules placed on me so long ago. He reminds me it’s perfectly healthy and better for my growth as a person to let myself be childlike every now and then – especially with my kids.

In a recent post, I included a photo of my son jumping through the sprinkler, and I remarked how my neighbors would think I was crazy acting like a kid if they caught me doing that. Tom Robbins reminds us all that those neighbors feel threatened because they themselves are stifled. Who are we, the reckless neighbors, to break the rules of growing up? In rebellion, I've just returned from a water park with my kids, where I let myself be jettisoned from the superslide and be sprayed from every direction with blasting water along the lazy river. I laughed the whole time. (Take that, cranky neighbors!)

So in honor of my children and Tom Robbins, I encourage all of us to continually grow, to go on playing, to always want to know more, to never completely conquer our fears or realize all of our dreams, to only stop being a threat once we die. Only then is the game truly over.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

On Seatbelts (Or, I dare you not to be moved)

A couple of days ago, I read a post by KLM at A Rock in My Pocket, where she found herself questioning the seemingly stupid behavior or poor decisions made by us quirky human beings. (Like what makes an overweight middle-aged woman think she'll look hot donning a bikini? And why would someone buy a full shopping cart worth of watermelons...without also purchasing vodka?) In her comments section, I said it was always good to question life but suggested that perhaps she was asking the wrong questions.

Well, hah! The joke is on me because the next day, while driving, I saw three moron drivers not wearing seatbelts. And yes, I asked myself Why? Why? Why? With all we know today about car accident statistics, how can there be any excuse for not wearing your seatbelt? I just don't get it.

So for those of you out there who, just maybe, are making a similarly moronic decision when you drive, I ask you to watch the following video.

To quote one of my favorite movie characters, "And that's all I have to say about that."

Monday, July 19, 2010

On Messing with Nature (Or, This was supposed to make it better?)

I love lizards. Being a native South Floridian, I really have no other choice. I grew up with them running in my house at the call of any open door, so catching them became necessity, especially since I didn't want them to suffer a fate worse than death - being toyed with by my cats. (It's the only cruel side of felines I've seen so far.) And since my husband is not a fan of lizards, it's a good thing I am. As is my daughter. Which is why I took her today to the Miami Museum of Science. After all, it was Lizard Day!

Imagine a dog show but with lizards. And I ain't talkin' about the kind that sneak in your door and become cat prey. No, no, no. These lizards could be cat predators. So you can imagine my daughter's thrill to discover she could not only pet these reptiles but even hold them.
Holding a Bearded Dragon (this one was missing three of its feet and part of its tail because, as a baby, it had been in a cage with too many lizards and the food supply ran low. Yeah, you heard me...lizard cannibalism.)

The lizards on display included Bearded Dragons, as shown above, various breeds of Monitors...

Monitor Lizard (

...and lots of large Iguanas. How large, you ask? Well, let me show you.

This guy needed a harness, and to give you a little perspective... daughter is petting him while his owner struggles to keep his hind legs from kicking. She said it was like holding a toddler over her arm.

In addition to the lizards on display, humans were given the opportunity to "eat like lizards" (minus the tongue thrusting). Chefs were lined up stir frying worms and crickets, and small bowls of fried worms were available for snacking. For dessert, there were cookies that looked like the chocolate chip variety, except they were cricket-chip cookies. To answer the question burning in your head, NO! I did not taste any of this, but my brave daughter had a fried worm and my father (a fascinated tag-along) really like the cookies.

Now, since I've mentioned my father, I should get to the point of this post, which is the horrible discovery he and I made while touring the hall of lizards on display by proud owners.

A young man was holding a strawberry-blond colored dragon with no scales. It's called a Silkback Dragon. He invited us to touch its skin, bragging about how rare this breed was. The skin felt smooth (silky) and dry, and it had wrinkles in many spots as if the skin couldn't bounce back from having been rubbed there seconds earlier. The guy said their skin is so sensitive without its scales that you have to rub lotion on it frequently to prevent cracking and infections. He added that if the Silkback got out, it would die almost instantly. The rest of the conversation went more or less like this:

Dad: How did this breed come about?
Guy: Oh, we breed them like this?
Dad: Why?
Guy: Well, it started as an accident, while trying to improve the breed. You know, make a better gene pool.
Dad: Another lesson in why you shouldn't mess with nature.
(At this point, I'm thinking the conversation is over since Dad has ventured sarcastically into socio-political territory. But the guy doesn't get the hint.)
Guy: Oh, no. Look how beautiful they are. The color is so vibrant. We breed them like this now because they're so rare and exotic.
Dad: (incredulous) On purpose?
Me: (infuriated) Are you kidding me?
Daughter: How sad.
Guy: No, these guys go for almost $500 for an adult, $250 for a baby.
Me: This is so wrong. You made a mistake that hurts the lizard and now you're doing it on purpose?

At this point, Dad grabs my elbow and politely tries to escort me away from the man, mumbling in my ear, "Not the time to get political." I give him a look but surrender because I know it will be much more satisfying to blog about this than to take on a man with a five-pound lizard in his hand.

So here I am saying THIS IS WRONG. I'm all for stem cell research to help cure or prevent diseases, birth defects, and the sort, but causing a genetic "accident" and then intentionally propogating it because it's fasciniating and brings in big money...this is worthy of an OMG. Or an OMFG. (And I hate those acronyms. Don't get me started on LOL, or LMFAO.)

If there are any of you out there considering purchasing an exotic lizard as a pet, please, please, please make sure it has scales. A scaleless lizard is as cruel a breeding trick as is a hairless cat. (Though admittedly much more attractive. I mean, what good is a cat who can't entertain me by hacking for minutes before upchucking a hairball?)

But seriously folks, bald may be in fashion for human men these days, but men have that choice to make. (And I must say, I like it.) Lizards, on the other hand, need their scales. Don't let the uber-exotic lure you into making inhumane choices.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

On the Lies We Tell Our Children (Or, Does dishonesty have its merits?)

No Santa Claus or Easter Bunny in our house, but definitely a Tooth Fairy...until the 6-year-old figured it out. When you've got clever kids for whom innocence was not meant to last, these "lies" live a short shelf life. We don't really think of them as lies, but they are. Sweet, joyful, tender lies, but lies none the less. When kids eventually find out the truth, they are hopefully wise enough to realize the stories were told not only to them but to all children, and so the lie doesn't sting so badly.

But what of the lies we tell our children to protect them? The ones that we pray will never be revealed.

When I was 12 years old, my rabbit died. We lived next to an agricultural testing ground that was cordoned off by a fence that bordered our neighborhood. It was pretty on the other side of the fence. When I asked my father what he'd done with Marshmallow (yes, she was white and fluffy), he said he'd buried her over the fence where she'd be safe and protected.

I believed him.

When I was in my twenties, it hit me one day that the fence was unclimbable with its barbed wire. And my "I can't lift heavy boxes because of my back" father would never climb a fence, especially not with a box filled with dead rabbit under his arm. So I challenged him.

Me: Did you really bury Marshmallow in the agricultural testing grounds?
Dad: No, I threw her over the fence.
Me: What???
Dad: Don't worry. I threw her far enough in so nobody would smell her decomposing.

That was Dad for ya.

To say I was angry would be doing the English language injustice. To say I was hurt would be closer to accurate. He had lied to me, and my mother had supported it, the willing accomplice. Then it hit me; in reality, what other option did my father have? In South Florida, you can't really bury anything deep enough in this limestone rock. Gardening works, but not burying dead animals far enough down to keep scavenging dogs from digging them right back up. So my Dad throwing Marshmallow over the fence was probably the wisest option. And lying to me about it was probably done out of love (or laziness, I'm still not sure).

But I am sure that being a parent faced with teaching lessons of death and mourning to a child is one of the most difficult tasks. Pets serve that purpose very well. If we're lucky, they are our teachers before we lose family members or friends. And when a parent is faced with treating their child compassionately while also protecting them from further pain, the lie becomes more justifiable.

Last night, my husband and I were talking about the compounding lies we've told our kids regarding what happened to their deceased pets, and we prayed they would never find out. We told those lies out of love and, quite honestly, out of respect for our children's desires to handle the deceased in what we saw as an unreasonable manner. But some day the kids will figure it out, because they're curious. And that's when they'll process the mixed message they received in their youth - the one that said, "Never tell a lie."

In a recent post, I referenced one of Missed Periods' posts, and I'm about to do it again, indirectly. Never say never. Absolutes don't serve an honest purpose in the real world. When children are little, we tell them never to lie. But as they grow and mature, they learn that all humans tell "white" lies because lying is essential to socializing well in this world and protecting people's feelings. (Actually, I don't care how you are today, but I'll pretend I do to be polite. That, my friends, is lying.) Lying is also necessary to tell a good joke, by the way.

And when our children figure out the truth about life, they will understand that sometimes lies have their place in our world. Hopefully, they will forgive their parents, who, at the grandparents' advice, consecrated the hamster's grave (2 of them, actually)  and "relocated" the corpses with the intention of preventing resurfacing of the dead due to heavy rains or pesky opossums. All this after the mourners had marked the graves with stones emblazoned with Sharpie markers. (They even returned the next day to plant flowers on the site.)

Sweet eternal dreams, dear Remy (hamster #1) and Joey (hamster #2). May you rest in peace (wherever you are), and may you know that you were deeply loved.

That is no lie.

Remy & Joey

Monday, July 12, 2010

On Youth (Or, We only live once...or so I'm told)

First and foremost, I want to say...VIVA ESPAÑA!
Okay, now onto the post of the day.
"Youth is wasted on the young". That quote usually refers to people in their 20s having the benefits of youth without appreciating its value. I prefer to travel farther back in time to childhood and say, "Only the young can handle youth." The series of photos below should serve as evidence in helping prove my case.

Exhibit #1:

I look at my daughter and her friend and wish I could both physically and spiritually behave the way they do. I'm sure I could muster the emotional strength to let myself go and jump as high as I can, but I'd pay for it later when my heels, ankles, and knees ache in retribution. (No, kids. Mommy can't play tonight. She's high on Naproxen because Advil wasn't strong enough.)

 Exhibit #2:

Many of you have seen this shot before (last post), but I repeat it to focus on the expression of pure joy on my daughter's face. She is free, open to the world, and unhibited - an emotion most adults can't experience without the aid of alcohol or some other substance. If someone caught me doing this and captured it on film, I'd possibly lose my job for being accused of drinking mid-day and playing hooky.
Exhibit #3:

This shot was taken about 4 years ago, but my daughter still feels free to make such facial expressions whenever the mood suits her. When I loosen up enough to do this, my kids tell me I'm "freakin' them out". (What's a girl to do?)

Exhibit #4:

The kids were told a surprise awaited them inside the plastic peanut-filled box. I dare even one of you grownups to dive into a box with this much gusto. Go ahead. I'll wait. Then I'll call the paramedics for you.

Exhibit #5:

I call this shot "Leap of Faith". My son's eyes were closed as he tried to avoid the water spray, but I'm sure you can imagine the thrill of making such a jump. Why can't I run through the sprinklers like this? Again, I'm envisioning neighbors calling Child Protective Services if they caught me in such an act. (She was jumping around like a six year old. The nerve of that woman. Who does she think she is to be enjoying life at her age?)

Exhibit #6:

And finally, who hasn't enjoyed a good cannonball jump into the swimming  pool? My son and his two buddies took on the challenge, so I tried my hand at it afterwards. Except when I did it, I splashed the entire pool deck, burnt my knees and bum in the landing, and ended up coughing up liquid chlorine as my kids shouted, "Geez, Mom. You're embarrassing us!"
Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case. In protest, I propose we all picket the powers that be and demand a bit of our youth back. So what if we have to load up on painkillers afterward or tolerate disapproving glares of other grownups. If for just a few moments in time we could feel the joy of youth again, I'm sure we'd all be happier and more successful adults. After all, we only live once.

Monday, July 5, 2010

On Falling in Love...with my hometown (Or, After 43 years, I get it)

It takes some people a day and others a weekend to fall in love with South Florida beaches. I, on the other hand, am a slow learner. Born and raised in Miami, I took the beach for granted. I was never a sun worshipper, preferring a chlorinated swimming pool to the stinging salt of the ocean, and I found sand a pervasive nuisance. Apparently, the sun was blinding me from the bigger picture.

After four years away at college and three years of European living, I had determined that my hometown did not rank on my top-10 list of beautiful cities. And even 14 years after moving to the next county north, I still tell people I only live here because I was born here and my extended family is here. As if I'm trapped in some pissant town where no one would ever want to be.

Except that all that changed this weekend. It all started with a bike ride and ended with me saying, "I had no idea this existed in my city. Where in God's name have I been all these years?" But since a picture is worth a thousand words (and you certainly don't want to read 1000 words in this post), I'll start here...

Here I'm standing on the veranda of the Pelican Grand Beach Resort on Fort Lauderdale Beach. I swear I could spend all day sitting in one of these rockers just reading or working on my WIP. Glorious. And to find out that low season is actually affordable, especially for a resident like me who doesn't have to pay airfare to get here.

And just down the road is this gin joint...

The Casablanca Cafe, complete with piano bar and Moroccan decor. Dining on the porch provides a beach view (directly behind me as I took the picture). In fact, here I am...

Ta da!

After discovering these fabulous landmarks (and enjoying a delicious Cobb salad rich with avocado!), I happened upon actual neighborhoods right on the beach.  With cottages that look like this...

and this...

Okay, so this one isn't exactly a cottage, but you get my drift. Point is, I thought Broward County was all condos and boring suburban communties that look like mine. But I am so wrong.

I also discovered Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. What??? Yes, right off the beach is this gem, where my friend Linda and I rode our bikes forever just wandering the myriad of paths that resemeble this one...

Anyway, for the first time in 43 years, I am in love with my city and all its yet-to-be-discovered nooks that I'm finally willing to take the time to seek out. My daughter agrees with me. In fact, here's her take on Fort Lauderdale Beach...

I call this shot "Alegría"

So to all potential visitors I may host in the future, I send out a hearty Welcome! and an advisory to bring comfortable walking shoes and strong legs for bike riding. I promise you that my town will blow you away, and it will have nothing to do with a hurricane.